Those little white churches that dot coastal Delaware don’t just echo the area’s past. Plenty of them still house congregations that have learned from it.

By Bill Newcott | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the Holiday 2018 issue

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Red balloons reach for the ceiling of Indian Mission United Methodist Church, each one tethered by ribbon to the end of a pew. They sway to and fro, gently buffeted by whispery currents that have curled lightly within the walls of this place for nearly a century.

In those pews, about 35 chattering folks, teenagers to retirees, slide back and forth along the benches, managing multiple conversations, catching up on the news (no one here would be comfortable with the term “gossip”) and mouthing happy “hellos” to folks too far away for a church-appropriate exclamation.

It’s cloudy out, but enough light filters through the tall windows to illuminate the interior of this Millsboro church.

A visitor tries to blend into the back of the small sanctuary, but he’s been to enough of these gatherings to know that is a fool’s errand. The service begins and not two minutes in, the Rev. Karen Mumford — a retired mail carrier who has for eight years been the pastor here — raises her eyes in his direction.

“We’re so glad to have a visitor here this morning!” she fairly chirps. “Would you mind telling us a little about yourself?”

I’ve been busted. All heads turn toward me smiling faintly as I rise. I introduce myself and say simply that I’m happy to be worshiping with everyone here today. Welcoming nods accompany me as I sink back into my place.

I am happy to be here. But I have an ulterior motive. For a moment I feel a little like one of Joshua’s Old Testament spies, sent to scout out the Promised Land.

But I’ve blown my cover. Some spy I am.

 

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